Q&A: Forbes' Matthew Miller


Forbes released its 2009 list of the world's billionaires on Wednesday, and the "billionaire bust" also hit Hollywood, Silicon Valley and the broader media and Internet field. The Hollywood Reporter New York bureau chief and business editor Georg Szalai spoke with Forbes senior editor Matthew Miller about some of the trends affecting the sector's richest individuals.

The Hollywood Reporter: Were billionaires in the media and entertainment space at all insulated from the financial crisis that whacked many billionaires on your list this year?

Matthew Miller: Steven Spielberg tends to hold most of his money in cash or cash equivalents. So, his billions were somewhat insulated. A guy like David Geffen was worth $6 billion last year and $4.5 billion this year. This is a guy who held art and real estate and cash. He lost 25% of his net worth, and yet he held some of the best assets. It goes to show you that a lot of people despite not being in the market still got hammered by this crisis.

THR: Did the sector's rich hold up any better or worse overall?

Miller: It's really on a case-by-case basis. Hollywood also has its own problems. We really have to see how the economy is going to impact the making of the movies in the next two years. For Steven Spielberg and guys who own a studio this becomes an issue.

THR: Sumner Redstone is still a billionaire. How was he affected?

Miller: Redstone is hanging on to his billionaire status by a thread. He is barely a billionaire this time. He has massive debt problems. Viacom and CBS shares are cratering. In fact, we priced this list on Feb. 13. If we priced it today, I really doubt that Sumner Redstone would still be a billionaire.

THR: Let's talk about Silicon Valley. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg dropped off this year's billionaires list, many others are down ...

Miller: They are all down 30%-40%. The problem with tech companies is that Google stock is off 30%-40%. Yahoo stock, same thing. Facebook has a great ability to generate a ton of users, but they have not figured out a way to monetize this yet. The revenue stream is very small compared to the numbers of users. And frankly, the multiple that we can put on that stream of revenue is half of what it was last year. There is no liquidity out there. That might be a great deal for somebody, because you could probably get it at a dirt-cheap price right now if they put it up for sale, which I don't think they would do.

THR: Is California still a hotbed for billionaires?

Miller: California has the most billionaires by state, 77, but it has lost more than 20. Los Angeles and San Francisco are the two hotbeds that make up the majority of billionaires in California.

THR: New York City is the city with the most billionaires again this year, reclaiming the top spot from Moscow. How is the Big Apple doing?

Miller: Within the U.S., New York has always dominated. For a while, there was Silicon Valley with the dot-com bubble, which gave it a run for its money. It's a trend of losing less. New York lost 16 billionaires last year, but Moscow lost more than 50.